Father Goddard (Richard Burton) is a stern and repressed teacher at a Catholic boys school. Goddard is strangely obsessed with two of his students. The intelligent and athletic Arthur Dyson (Dai Bradley) is a favorite of Goddard’s. However, Goddard cannot stand Arthur’s best friend, Benji (Dominic Guard). Benji wears a leg brace and takes a sarcastic attitude towards Goddard and the Catholic Church in general. When Goddard finds out that Benji has been hanging out with a drifter named Blakely (Billy Connolly) and that Blakely is camping near the church, Goddard calls the police. After the Blakely’s camp is destroyed and the drifter mysteriously vanishes, one of the boys goes to confession and tells the priest that he has murdered Blakely and hidden the body. Is the boy telling the truth or is Goddard the victim of an increasingly complicated prank?
Written by Anthony Shaffer (who also wrote the classic The Wicker Man), Absolution is an extremely complicated mystery that sometimes seems like it’s trying to do too much at one time. It starts out as a character study of an out-of-touch priest and then it becomes a coming of age story about Benji and his friendship with the free-thinking Blakely. Then it turns into a murder mystery and a horror movie before finally settling on being an anti-Catholic tract. The story does hold your interest because of the actors but that does not mean that it always makes sense. The film’s central conspiracy is clever and complicated but also thoroughly implausible.
The man reason to watch the film is that Richard Burton gives one of his best performances as the self-loathing Father Goddard. Burton had a famously mixed-record as a screen actor but Absolution makes good use of his tendency to ham it up. Much of what motivates Goddard is left unclear in the movie, though it is subject of much speculation among his students. Burton fills in the screenplay’s blanks with an intense performance as a man who has convinced himself that he has complete control when he actually has none at all.